Drawing 101: How to Sketch

Posted on April 18, 2022 | Updated on July 31, 2023

Whether you’re a web designer, graphic artist or you simply want to know more about drawing, learning how to sketch is the first step toward becoming a better artist. You don’t have to be Leonardo Da Vinci to learn the basics of drawing. You just need a desire to learn and the resources to get started. 

Searching for the term “How to Draw” pulls up over one billion results on Google. Topics range from how to draw for kids, how to become an artist to how to sketch commercially. There’s no lack of material on how to sketch, but it can be confusing when you have such a plethora of topics. Where should you start? 

Fortunately, the basics of how to sketch are pretty straightforward. You need to understand how form, style and function all come together. You also need a tiny touch of natural talent or confidence. 

What Are the Basics of How to Sketch?

Learning how to draw isn’t as hard as you might think, but it does take consistent effort and practice. You have to learn to move the pencil so you don’t hold it stiffly. The more confident you grow, the easier it will be to sketch things. You must understand the basics of how to sketch in order to make things look like real objects. Here are the steps to follow to get started today. 

Step #1: Gather the Tools

Learning how to sketch requires a few tools. You’ll need:

  • Sketch pad
  • Pencils
  • Eraser
  • Good light source
  • Drawing tablet (to learn digital sketching skills)
  • Image editing software

The tablet market is set to reach $262 billion by 2023. You’ll find everything from inexpensive options to costly choices. You can certainly learn how to sketch without a digital drawing tool, but you may have a slight learning curve later in your career. 

Today’s generation learns how to tap into the power of machines while completing their graphic artist education degrees. If you don’t keep up with the latest tools, you risk losing jobs to those already trained in these areas. You can easily learn how to use artist pens and drawing pads with just a few hours of video viewing and practice.

Step #2: Draw Shapes

When people first start drawing, it’s tempting to try to create an advanced illustration from the first effort. However, learning how to sketch takes quite a bit more energy and time. You should first look for the shapes of objects and draw just circles, squares and triangles to represent the object. An orange would be a circle, a stick of butter would look like a rectangle and so on. 

For example, if you were drawing a dachshund, you might outline a long oval for the body, a smaller oval for the head, a triangle for the tail and rectangles for the legs. Study the object until you start to see the shapes. You may even want to close one eye and look at it from different angles. 

Pay attention to objects around your house and sketch them as shapes until you get a feel for the outline of things. The fundamentals of drawing require you to start simple and then expand into details. If you can’t get the form right, then you won’t be able to draw more complex shapes later. 

The key with learning to draw shapes is keeping your wrist loose and letting the pencil or drawing tool guide easily across the page. If your movements are too stilted, you’ll wind up with harsh lines and incorrect shapes. Some artists draw without ever looking away from their subject. They put instrument on medium and let their mind take in the shapes as they sketch the subject.

Step #3: Refine the Shapes

Once you learn the shapes that make up objects, start to refine them into something resembling what you’re trying to draw. The dog’s tail might become more of a fan shape. You might elongate the nose and erase some of the other lines until you have the basic outline of a dog. Think along the lines of a silhouette.

Keep working on the shape until you have the outline that looks the most like the object possible. Next, try sketching it without first using shapes, but still picturing them in your mind. 

If you need the shapes, you can always draw them with a light hand and erase them later. When creating a digital masterpiece, it’s quite easy to erase lines. However, if you’re drawing on paper, we suggest using a lighter hand. This will help you erase what you don’t want more easily.

Don’t stress too much. Practice, practice practice. You can always start over if something doesn’t go quite the way you want it to.

Step #4: Add Dimension

Drawing 2-D objects isn’t very skilled and makes drawings look elementary. You can add a lot of depth simply by adding some dimension.

Anything you create has more than one side. The dog mentioned above has a belly, back and sides. Think about the different angles, including from the top, bottom and back. How can you show the user there is another side?

Think of some of the basic lessons you took in art class in school about three dimensions. Did you draw a box with more than one side? How were the angles handled? Check out the video below for a quick free class on perception

Practice drawing and showing off the depth of objects. How can you show a side? What about adding in the top? What does the viewer see? What’s invisible? Walk around the thing you’re drawing and look at it from all angles. Once you start to fully understand dimension, your work will look much more realistic.

Step #5: Learn Shade and Light

Skilled sketchers know the way light hits on objects and which side is shaded. Even in low light, there is a dark side and a light side, which gives the drawing a bit more interest and realism. 

If you want to learn how to work with shading, take a look at paintings by Thomas Kincade. He is famous for imagining how the light might hit on a cottage or landscape. 

Practice with simple objects at first, such as an apple. Add shading until it has enough dimension that it appears realistic. 

You can also use a light source and shine it on the object to see where the shadow falls. Which areas are brighter and which are darker? How can you show this in your own work?

As you become more familiar with lighting and shading, you’ll begin noticing elements of it in other people’s work. Study great pieces and see what you can learn about light from them.

Step #6: Add Details

Next, add in the little details that make the sketch unique. For example, add whiskers to the dog, a bit of light glinting in the eye, some fur to show how it all comes together. 

Take the time to study your subjects. How does a baby’s hair fall across its head? Do their eyebrows show at all? How can you show almost invisible eyebrows without making a sketch of a baby look creepy or weird? Try different techniques and learn what angles work best to show what you see with your naked eye.

Artists don’t perfect their skill overnight. It takes many years to learn the subtle effects that make things come to life. Ask someone you know to show you their early sketches versus what you see today.

Take classes online and in person. Watch videos. Try things out. Talk to other artists. You should never stop learning and improving your drawing.

Step #7: Learn Different Mediums

Once you have the basics of drawing, try creating things with different tools. Sketch on paper with pencil. Get brave and use ink.

You could also try out mediums such as pastels and see what looks best with your skill level. Pencils come in different hardness. Try different ones until you land on the one that helps you achieve the drawings you wish.

Even digital creations bring multiple options. For example, you might sketch on paper and upload to Adobe Illustrator for refinement. You could draw on a tablet or some other device. There are so many options and it’s hard to know what works best because each artist is different. Try different things until you discover the one thing you love.

Art is about passion. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing or the medium you’re working with, you risk burnout and walking away from drawing altogether.

Step #8: Try Your Hand at Gesture Drawing

Some artists use grids or tracing to prepare their works of art. Yet, if you want to be more confident in sketching — especially when the inspiration strikes — try gesture drawing. While most beginners use tools to get started, you may come to a point where you no longer need to use them.

Gesture drawing is a type of sketching that uses the freehand method. It’s a fast and loose style used to follow the rhythm of the subject without considering minor details. Freehand drawing helps you become a better artist by challenging you to take it up a notch. 

When outlining gestures, you must capture the motion and form of the subject in only a few strokes. Start by observing the thing you want to draw. For instance, if it’s a tree swaying in the wind, look at how it moves and holds its shape. With your pen or pencil, quickly sketch those lines and shapes.

Freehand drawing isn’t about perfection — it’s capturing the essence of your subject that matters. Remember to sketch lightly because you’re bound to make mistakes. You’ll want to be able to erase them without making a mess of your paper. 

Step #9: Hone in on Your Observational Skills

Drawing success relies on your ability to capture the world around you. Each line you draw is a discovery, while each shape is a new territory explored. That’s where your observation comes into play.

“Seeing” what you draw needs your full attention to absorb the big picture instead of the complexity of details. Once you open your eyes, you can see what is right in front of you. The goal is to feel like it’s only you and your subject alone without any other distractions taking place.

Once you pick up your pen or pencil, your aim is to stay focused on the object you’re sketching. Allow your hand to follow what you perceive, and outline the edges of each shape you’re visualizing.

Try to avoid looking down to see what’s happening when you draw. Your piece may not be perfect. However, this method allows you to build your observational skills by practicing the ability to tune in and out during your sketching.

Step #10: Explore Different Materials

As you grow and develop your skills as an artist, you should explore different tools for your sketches. Doing so helps you unlock the potential to achieve better drawings. 

For instance, pencils come in different grades, ranging from hard (H) to soft (B). Harder pencils, like a 2H, create lighter lines — perfect for initial outlines or delicate details. Softer pencils, like a 6B, are darker and great for bold features and deep shadows. Consider playing around with different degrees of hardness and softness to learn which intensities work best for what you’re trying to achieve.

Drawing pens are great for sharp, precise edges. It will give your sketch definition and details that a pencil may not provide. The best part is it doesn’t smudge like a pencil will. Yet, ink is also permanent, so it’ll challenge you to avoid making mistakes. However, these etching tools will build your confidence as you become more skillful. 

Consider technical pens or fine liners to capture more precision in your tracings. The fine tips come in various widths for thick or thin contours.

Practice Like Crazy

Drawing isn’t something you pick up overnight. Learn new skills as you go along. Ask others for advice, view online tutorials and take courses. The more you learn and practice, the more life-like your sketches will become. Pay attention to the work of others, so you can learn and grow not only from your own work but studying what others have already done.

Drawing is a vital skill to add to your designer repertoire. You’ll be able to fully customize logos, web designs and more. Learning how to sketch is the first step in becoming skilled at drawing.

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